Let's face it, whether you like it or not you are paying a decent amount of your money to have dental insurance. It's a great thing to have if things go wrong but if you aren't using it, it is most likely a significant waste of money! Most insurance premiums (on an annual basis) are more than you would pay out of pocket for the 2 cleanings you get for "free" per year. If you aren't following through with treatment that extra money is essentially wasted.
The way insurance works is that you pay a premium on a monthly or annual basis. For this monthly payment they give you a piggy bank loaded with an annual maximum that you can spend at your dentists office. These annual maximums range by individual policy, typically in the ball park of $500-2500 per year with most plans falling in the $750-1500 range. At the end of every year the insurance takes the piggy bank back (with any remaining money) and gives you a new one... If you don't use that money by the end of the year you loose it! And, they keep the excess money that you paid into the system, in the form of premiums, that they didn't pay out. This is how they make money! They bank on the fact that most patients don't follow through with treatment or even go to the dentist at all! The worst part about it is that they also don't care if you have some kind of catastrophic problem in the future. If you don't follow through with treatment that has been recommended by your dental provider and the problem progresses to something that requires more than your annual maximum to fix they leave you to pay the difference. It's frustrating!
As a dentist my job is to identify problems and anticipate what they might progress into. It is my goal to intercept the problem before it gets to the point where it becomes painful or requires difficult expensive treatment to fix. For instance, one of the most costly mistakes we see patients make in our office is to not treat teeth with fractures in them because at the time the tooth is not bothering them. The frustrating part of this is that once the tooth does bother them it is likely going to need much more extensive treatment to fix. Fractured teeth commonly progress into deep cavities or split teeth that can only be fixed with a root canal or in some instances by removing the tooth. If a tooth is removed replacing the tooth can become very expensive and if left un-treated can cause other teeth in the area to have greater problems as well. It truly resembles dominoes falling... at extremely slow rates! In the end, most patients regret not taking care of the tooth at the first sign of the problem. A fractured tooth can easily be fixed with a filling (if it is small enough), or more typically a crown. Crowns and fillings are easily covered by most insurance plans with a relative minimal expense to the patient where as replacing a missing tooth with a bridge or implant can cost a patient thousands of dollars!
So what can you do?
1.) Find a dentist that you trust and take advantage of your insurance dollars. Your dentist should be able to prioritize treatment for you, if possible, to help maximize your insurance money.
2.) Don't hesitate to complete needed treatment. Delaying treatment can result in disastrous consequences and cost a lot of money that you could have avoided spending.
3.) Keep routine cleaning appointments and dental exams to identify problems early and fix them before they progress into big problems.
Now is the time of year to be taking advantage of the money you've been paying for all year! Don't let your insurance dollars go to waste!